Shoojit Sircar at IFFI 2018

After making films like Vicky Donor (2012), Madras Cafe (2013) and Piku (2015) in the last decade, this year, filmmaker Shoojit Sircar delved into the melancholic story of Dan, a young man who discovers himself after a friend lands up in a coma, in the form of October. The leisurely pace and beautiful moments in the film, made Sircar’s lastest outing one of his best.

October was screened in the Indian Panorama section at the 49th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) on 23 November.

In a conversation with film critic Saibal Chatterjee, the director freely discussed why a star like Varun Dhawan, who is known for playing the hero in commercial cinema, was roped in to play the October’s protagonist, Dan. Especally, since the director at the very outset of the conversation declared that he “can’t make a film for the audience.”

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“Varun Dhawan was not even on my radar. We don’t even come from the same planet. For him to work in my film was bizzare for a lot of people,” confesses Sircar, adding, “Unless I saw something in him and felt this is Dan for me. What you see there is important also. I wanted to go with an absolute new cast because if you see, all the others are a fresh cast. Because if they [commercial artistes] ask me to tell them more about the story I wouldn’t have been able to tell them much. The film is about the moment and the experience that we go through.”

Narrating the experience of getting Dhawan to under-act, Sircar said, “So, for example he will sit, and I know that he would want to do a lot of things. My job was to calm him down and make him not do a lot of things. I would put a shot and tell him to be silent and watch and sit there. After a point he would say that he had been silent for a long time. ‘Aage to kuch karna padega… kuch acting [Now, some acting must be done]‘,” said Sircar, as giggles errupted in the audience.

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“He was confused and I asked my cinematographer to keep rolling. What would you do with a coma patient in the room. So he’ll come back and say ‘kuch to kiya nahi maine [I did nothing]‘. I said ‘ho gaya [It’s done]’. Whatever you did is good. He took some time to understand that, but when he understood that… even if he is Varun Dhawan and he does his kind of films, he understood that and he was brave to take that jump,” Sircar said.

He observed that the urge to act happens with many, and he did have to “control” that in Dhawan. “It happens, that I need to do some acting. Initially, it happens to everyone. Very few like Irrfan [Khan] understand that.”

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Though Sircar made it clear during the conversation that casting Dhawan was not a commercial but a creative decision, he was happy with the response. “It was not as big as Piku or Pink, but it was good box office. It did what we had expected. People said sad, melancholic, slow, I slept… and I said fine because it is that kind of a film.”

Going back to what made him cast Dhawan, Sircar said that it was the actor’s “clumsiness and innocence” that drew him in.

“He was chasing me for a year and saying he wanted to work with me. I had a flight in the morning. And at around 10am he called me. I said I should meet him because I had been avoiding him for a while. I said come now, and I’ll meet you for 15 mins. He had just woken up. I said come the way you are,” he recalled.

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“He was wearing torn jeans, a t-shirt and his hair was dishevelled. Varun was not in my mind at all, the script of October was. I saw an innocence in his eyes, honestly, which was important part of Dan, and you see it in the film. He said I want to work with you. He dropped the tea cup. Then he dropped the water. I saw a clumsiness and I caught hold of that clumsiness. And I went from there. Dan doesn’t know what future he has.”

October is a seemless blend of the medical and the emotional aspects of having to deal with a close one lying on the hospital bed in a comatose state. Sircar says that he and the writer of the film, Juhi Charturvedi, drew upon their personal experiences to write the script.

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“My mother was in coma for three months in Delhi. I was in Mumbai shooting, suddenly it had happened. What you saw Varun was going through, I used to go to my mother every day in the ICU. Bahar Diwali was going on,” he says, “Medical ki jo duniya hai [The medical world], it is separated from the outside world. If someone’s family member is in the hospital, that whole hospital world is totally separated from the outside. Like scientists who are in their own world, and wouldn’t even know where Salman Khan is dancing. Hospital world is like that. The 3 months I spent there, every day all those experiences came into it [writing]. Juhi’s mother had also been in coma. We have dug into those experiences and used in the writing the film,” said Sircar. 

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